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The COVID crisis' lockdown period has seen a number of television stars have to setup studio in their own abodes. But what do you do if the 'stars' in question are better versed in holding a Dualshock than adjusting a focus?

In a lovely piece of work for charity Football Beyond Borders, agency Dark Horses and production company Outsider sought to shoot professional footballer Cyrus Christie (himself having spoken opening about struggles with mental health in the past) playing FIFA with two young lads, Freddie and Bland, capturing the playful yet poignant banter.

Set up in the participants' homes, what marks Football Beyond Walls out is the candidness of the participants, all offering insightful views into their current situation and sharing with the kind of off-guard honestly that gaming can sometimes open up.

We caught up with senior creative Adam Burns and director Tom Day to quiz them on how they caught heartfelt content remotely.

Football Beyond Borders – Football Beyond Walls

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Credits
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Adam Burns - Senior Creative, Dark Horses

How quickly did you pull this idea together? 

It took about three weeks, from having the initial idea to shooting the film. 

We've had a relationship with Football Beyond Borders for about a year, since they starred in our film for the launch of, Head's Up - HRH the Duke of Cambridge and the FA's mental health initiative. So when we spotted on social media that FBB were launching their Virtual School and adapting the way they deliver their services, we felt the idea of connecting and having more meaningful conversations using gaming would fit nicely. 

What was the key factor you wanted to address?

We wanted to show that gaming can be used as a power for good, especially during lockdown. Too often people are quick to criticise gaming but used in the correct way it can have a positive impact on people's wellbeing. 

FBB put Freddie and Bland forward as participants and we were all blown away by their maturity and composure in front of the camera.   

A game of FIFA can become the perfect time to open up and have a more meaningful conversation, because the emotion is removed by the game. 

Obviously times are challenging for a number of reasons, but what were the specific challenges with this project and how did you overcome them?

From a production perspective, my main concern was creating an environment in which the young people and Cyrus Christie felt comfortable enough to open up. 

Luckily, the practitioners at FBB are experts in making young people feel empowered to share their feelings and experiences. 

How did you pick the stars for the ad? 

Cyrus Christie had an existing relationship with FBB and has worked with them the past, he is also an avid FIFA player and has spoken openly about mental health in the past, so he was a perfect fit for the project. FBB put Freddie and Bland forward as participants and we were all blown away by their maturity and composure in front of the camera.   

When was Outsider brought on? Why did you choose them as production partner?

Almost from day one. 

When Cyrus, Bland and Freddie are talking about quite deep things, the conversation is often broken up by a goal or a near miss, which lightens the mood and is exactly why gaming can be such an open space to talk about mental health.

We have a good relationship with Simon and Tom, and we knew their expertise both from a storytelling and production perspective would be invaluable. 

What was your proudest moment from the shoot?

When you go into a shoot like this you never really know what you'll get, so to produce two very honest and raw conversations was fantastic. 

Do you have a favourite moment in the campaign?

For us it was all about capturing how you can get lost in a game of FIFA, and how that the game can give you space to talk. 

When Cyrus, Bland and Freddie are talking about quite deep things, the conversation is often broken up by a goal or a near miss, which lightens the mood and is exactly why gaming can be such an open space to talk about mental health. 

Are you planning any more content in the campaign's future?

We would love to do an episode featuring young women and a star of the women's game.

Click image to enlarge
Above: Some of the kit Christie and the boys had to set up at home.


Tom Day - Director, Outsider

When were you approached about the project? What about it appeals to you?

Dark Horses approached us about the project a couple of weeks into lockdown and immediately it was something I wanted to help make happen. We should all encourage young people to talk more openly about their mental health in any way we can, especially given the current circumstances. 

Production-wise, I simply thought this will be a cool challenge to try and pull off.

Obviously times are challenging for a number of reasons, but what were the initial challenges you had to overcome?

There were two big challenges. Firstly we had to find a way to ensure that the technical side of the shoot went smoothly. Cyrus and the kids were effectively our camera and sound crew with zero experience. To make it as simple as possible for them, once the kit arrived at each of their houses, they began to set it up themselves following a series of tutorial videos we had shot the day before. This process worked extremely well and with everything almost set, on the shoot day (via FaceTime) we set up the final details with them; framing, exposure and the important one pressing record.

The big call was not having anyone else in the room with the kids, so their pure focus was on the FIFA game and their conversation with Cyrus. 

Secondly, I wanted to ensure that during the shoot Cyrus and the kids all felt comfortable to be themselves. To open up. As if they were just gaming in their room, chatting to mates on a headset like any other day and not performing / anxious of the cameras. 

Without this at ease feeling, the concept falls apart, it needed to be as authentic as possible. The big call was not having anyone else in the room with the kids (i.e. parents keeping an eye on the cameras etc), so their pure focus was on the FIFA game and their conversation with Cyrus. 

Despite the technical nerves this bought up - how would we know if a camera ran out of battery!? - it was 100% the right call, as both Freddie and Bland were just their brilliant selves.

Logistically, how did this differ from previous shoots of yours?

The biggest differences were not being able to meet and direct the talent in person and secondly not having a live feed of the cameras. This made developing the rapport (over the phone) with Cyrus and the kids crucial in the build-up to the shoot.

What kind of direction did you need to give Cyrus and the kids? How did you structure the shoot?

For the kids all we wanted was for them to be themselves. To express themselves. FBB do unbelievable work educating and supporting young people, and Freddie and Bland are a testament to that. They both spoke with such maturity and honesty that just listening to them was so captivating. We also encouraged them to engage with Cyrus in a 2-way manner, not just to sit there and answer, but to spark conversation with Cyrus themselves. They were brilliant at this. 

Cyrus was aware he was not there to be a talk show host, he was having a proper one-to-one conversation with a mate.

Cyrus’ role needed more of a structure. He was given a list of conversation starters by the FBB practitioners that would guide the framework to the conversation. But again, the chat needed to be authentic and Cyrus was aware he was not there to be a talk show host, he was having a proper one-to-one conversation with a mate. I thought he delivered a perfect balance. He was open, gave great advice and importantly listened. A proper role model.

Practically, I was listening in on the conversation live (via a Zoom call set up on the talent’s phones), halfway through each game I would call Cyrus to prompt him on a couple of talking points that I think would be worth exploring further depending on how the conversation was developing.

Overall the rapport that Cyrus built with the kids and the honesty they delivered was amazing to watch. Crucially they all had a good time and this is reflected in the footage. FIFA is a fun space for mates to play and chat.

What was your proudest moment?

Getting to the end of each FIFA game and asking the kids to show me the cameras on FaceTime and seeing that they were in fact still recording. Phew.

What was harder/took longer than you had anticipated?

The edit was tough, in a good way, we had so much good conversation to work with, it was about nailing down exactly what we wanted to say.

There is a moment in the film where Cyrus is recalling a troubling story from his youth and halfway through the serious topic of conversation he stops mid-flow to claim out loud ‘Oh what a goal!’

Do you have a favourite moment from the finished film? Was there anything that got culled that you wish you could have kept in?

There is a moment in the film where Cyrus is recalling a troubling story from his youth and halfway through the serious topic of conversation he stops mid-flow to claim out loud ‘Oh what a goal!’ As Aguero dinks it over the keeper. Freddie, himself can only applaud. Then, before you know it, Cyrus picks up mid-sentence to carry on the story, Freddie listening on intently. 

It is a poignant moment because this passage of conversation goes to show the power of FIFA being a safe space to express yourself in so many ways with your mates.

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